Saturday, April 07, 2012

Courtyard by Marriott hotel adds extras into your free wi-fi

That hotel's free Internet access may be free, but it may come at a price. No, we're not necessarily talking about a hotel somehow trying to put malware on your system, but after reading this ... we wouldn't be surprised.

Cash Back Coupon!
It's not even a questionable hotel. This report comes from a patron of the Courtyard Marriott in Times Square.

Web developer Justin Watt stayed at that particular Courtyard Marriott, and after noticing a strange gap at the top of every web page, he determined that the hotel was injecting Javascript code into every webpage he accessed in order to deliver ads.

This code injection was done without the knowledge of the end user (obviously), but also without the knowledge or permission of the page’s creator. The New York Times did its own test of the Courtyard Marriott in Times Square on Friday and verified Watt's claims.

According to the Times, the technology that embeds this extra code into the pages wasn't created by Courtyard Marriott but a system called Revenue eXtraction Gateway. rXg is a service of a company called RG Nets. The company says that rXg rewrites Web pages on the fly so that they can all include a banner ad.

Interestingly enough, there were two rXg demo videos on Vimeo. Both of those were deleted on April 6, 2012, which is when news regarding the system began spreading. The remnants of the videos can still be found (1, 2) on error pages with their titles still in existence.

However, we managed to find a version of the video which was uploaded to YouTube.

In the demo video, the narrator says:

"All rewriting is done on the fly in the rXg ... As you can see, the pervasive nature of the advertising banner on all Web pages guarantees banner advertising impression.”

This part of rXg is known as "Web experience manipulation." In addition to injecting advertising the service can block content as well. That's right; you could be using "free wi-fi" in a hotel only to be subject to what amounts to an all-hotel-network "Net Nanny" service.

Considering the ability of rXg to inject code on the fly, it is therefore theoretically possible for it to inject malware into the site code, too. We're not saying a hotel or other free provider would; we're just saying it would seem to be possible if a rogue IT administrator in some such provider wanted to.

Other parts of the site discuss other uses for rXg, such as "Per-user traffic shaping," which sounds a lot like throttling and data caps. It could be used to upsell a higher, non-free tier of broadband service if a hotel wanted to do so, perhaps.

Marriott said the national office would have to comment on the service. We suspect that, much like any other "program" like this that is suddenly outed, it's probable that Marriott is going to suddenly disconnect rXg soon.

Watch the demo video below.

No comments: